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Northampton 26 – 34 Leinster: Saints’ second-half comeback falls just short

Northampton Saints staged a sensational second-half comeback at Franklin’s Gardens, but fell just short as Leinster edged a topsy-turvy preseason clash 34-26.

The hosts found themselves 22-7 down at the break after three Leinster tries, but Tom Collins had answered for Chris Boyd’s side with James Grayson converting.

But while tries from debutants Henry Taylor, Tommy Freeman, and Ryan Olowofela briefly turned the scoreline on its head, the Irish side came out on top courtesy of two late scores from Rory O’Loughlin and Conor O’Brien.

The visitors kicked an early penalty downfield and after going through the phases Caelan Doris burrowed over from close range, with Fergus McFadden’s conversion coming off the inside of the post to make the scoreline 7-0.

After a good carry from Tom Wood, Leinster were caught offside from the next passage of play and Grayson struck the penalty into the corner – but Leinster first disrupted the lineout, and then cleared their lines after a Northampton turnover.

Saints were then caught slightly narrow in the centre of the park and after Leinster put the ball through the hands on halfway, centre Jimmy O’Brien had a clear run down the right wing to score his side’s second.

Another Leinster score came shortly after as the ball popped up to give prop Peter Dooley the simplest of finishes under the posts, with McFadden making no mistake with the extras, but Northampton then burst into life.

Replacement Connor Tupai took advantage of a Leinster knock-on and surged up the middle, with Ollie Sleightholme then sending a grubber-kick through for Tom Collins to touch down.

Grayson’s conversion from the touchline was beautifully hit, but the fly-half was penalised for holding on in front of the posts shortly after and Leinster extended their lead to 22-7 from the tee.

Boyd rang the changes after the break with an almost entirely new XV, and that made a huge impact with two Saints scores inside ten minutes.

After a sensational offload from Taqele Naiyaravoro, which took two defenders out of the game, new skipper Teimana Harrison found Henry Taylor inside him to score in the left corner moments into his first appearance in Black, Green and Gold.

And another sensational offloading score followed seven minutes later, involving Fraser Strachan, Tui Uru, and then again Taylor before Tommy Freeman finished off the move – with Tommy Mathews also notching his first Northampton points with the conversion.

Saints’ youngsters continued to impress with the likes of JJ Tonks and Reuben Bird-Tulloch making some big hits in the middle of the park, before the hosts took the lead after Olowofela’s initial break.

Northampton banged on the door under the posts, going through several phases before flinging it wide for the former England 7s player to sneak through a gap and score.

Mathews added the extras to take the scoreline to 26-22, but Leinster then responded with a clever cross-field kick allowing O’Loughlin to touch down and edge the visitors a point clear.

And the Pro14 Champions then sealed the win with O'Brien grabbing a bobbling ball and diving in for their fifth of the evening – but Saints fans can look forward to another clash against the Dublin outfit later this year when the Heineken Champions Cup gets underway.